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A Lesson in Contracts and Content Copyright

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An important lesson for bloggers in contracts and content copyright when working with sponsored networks. *

Darlings, this post is for my fellow content creators, and inspired by a lesson recently learned by a friend and fellow blogger regarding her experience with sponsored post broker and media company, Social Fabric/Collective Bias. Grab a cuppa and let’s chat a moment about the importance of reading *all* contracts and rights to content. As an MBA with a background in contracting, and entrepreneur, this is one of my favorite subjects. 

What does “content ownership” mean?

When a blogger creates unique content, takes pictures, and posts on their blog, the blogger – as content creator – is automatically granted all rights to their own content. What this means is that no one else can legally copy and paste from the blog to any other media and pass off the content as their own. This includes:

  • slightly cropping someone else’s photo for use on your own blog or promotional materials, including adding your own watermark to a photo you did not take
  • Changing the order of a few sentences in the text or slightly modifying the phrasing of a few sentences in a post or on a page
  • Copying an entire recipe to include the instructions when it is not your work (ingredient lists are not copyright, but method is)

As a content creator don’t I own all of my content automatically?

Typically yes, but sometimes no, especially in the case of sponsored posts. When you work with a company for a sponsored post, you sign a contract, usually allowing for limited use of your work – with attribution – for a limited time by the company. The more the company wishes to use your work and the more rights they wish to have, the higher the fee. The higher the fee because now you are not creating work for your own blog exclusively, but as a contractor for another company who can re-post and share your work on their (much larger) platforms, quite possibly without any link to your site depending on the terms of the contract.

When the company shares your post that links to your site, you receive benefits in terms of page views, potential new readers, and ad revenue if your site is monetized. If your content is used on another site, they not only reap the benefits of having your content, you also lose the opportunity to gain page views, new subscribers, and ad revenue. As your time as a content creator is valuable, it is to be expected you are compensated for the cost of opportunity in this situation.

But what if a company pulls a fast one and that doesn’t happen?

A real-world example…

I, like many other food, lifestyle, and parenting bloggers am was a member of Social Fabric/Collective Bias. They are a brokerage firm that signs contracts for sponsored posts with large companies like Wal-Mart, Target, Quaker Oats, Nestle, etc, and then finds bloggers to create the content requested by the client. This is very common in the blogging world as it saves time for both the bloggers and companies to work with an agent.

With some companies, “shops” or sponsored posts each have individual contracts where the licensing agreements are clearly outlined. The blogger retains rights to the content, the company and agency have limited license to share with attribution to the blogger, and everyone is happy. Depending on the desires of the client in regards to content license, you, as content creator, can accept or decline the work depending on how your content will be used. Simple.

Unless of course, you’re a company like Social Fabric or Linquia. These two companies have members sign a blanket licensing agreement upon joining the network where the company retains *all* rights to your content, forever, to use in any way as they wish, WITHOUT attribution. Please re-read the sentence and let that process for a moment.

Now, many of us don’t always read every word of every contract. I try, but sometimes I’m busy, and it just doesn’t happen. I missed this, and so did Jennifer Meyering. Neither of us imagined a clause such as this would be included in the contract of a company that claims to be very “blogger friendly”. This clause is anything but.

In fact, this only came to light when Social Fabric copied and pasted one of Jennifer’s sponsored posts – almost immediately after she posted – to their own food blog. Their blog has many more followers, much more reach, and while they did include a small link to her blog, she saw negligible traffic, if any, while the Social Fabric blog so quite a few hits based on the number of shares/likes/comments we noticed on their post in social media. She asked them to take it down, which they did, but when she asked for clarification as to why it happened in the first place, she was told that they own the rights to her content and can do as they wish.

Also being an MBA, Jenn went to the contracts, and the contracts of several other companies, and researched the Terms of Service for each one. Needless to say, she, myself, and several other regular content creators for Social Fabric have left the network and would not recommend it to any other blogger until they change their policies to match their “blogger friendly” claim. When sponsored posts are required with less than a week turnaround and some of the lowest pay in the industry, complete ownership of content rights is not included.

Lesson learned…

First, read your contracts. This is the best way to protect yourself and your work.

Second, your work is your product as a content creator. Respect yourself enough not to give it away for a few dollars when it is worth so much more on the market. You are worth much more.

If you’d like to know which marketing agencies respect their bloggers, and which lay claim to your content, Jennifer will be posting a list soon. In the meantime, read about her experience, and get her advice on the matter by clicking here.

Happy blogging!

Keeping things nice and legit,

The Godmother

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Nicole @Little Blog on the Homestead

Monday 29th of August 2016

Ugh this sucks so much, I'm glad she was able to get them to take it down and that we all get to learn from this lesson. I know when we all first start as bloggers it's so tempting to do anything for a little bit of money. But we really do need to value ourselves more and the work that we produce. Thanks for the heads up and I'll also be officially done with SoFab. I can't do many with them anyways since they don't often fit in my niche.

Mary (The Goodie Godmother)

Monday 29th of August 2016

I was so sad about this. They were the first company that really gave me the opportunity to build my portfolio for pay and not just product, but it's still wrong to take advantage of bloggers like this. Especially when they talk about being "blogger friendly" and they are a network accessible to smaller bloggers.

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